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The Amish Quilting Circle and Sister’s Day: an idea is born

Where do you get your ideas? is probably one of the most asked questions of authors. Ask a hundred of them and you will get a hundred different answers. And those answers will be different if you ask them the next day. Why? Because ideas are all over. I pull from personal experiences, people I know, people I see, stories I’ve heard loved ones tell, and more.

Most writers are introverts, which makes me something of an odd duck. I’m an extrovert and have no problem talking to people. One of my favorite things to do is get people telling stories and see what comes out. This is no different with the Amish. I am blessed to have Amish friends who live in Lancaster County, and I love to hear them tell their stories. See, most Amish don’t get on the telephone and chat up their friends all afternoon long. Most stories are shared in person. Sisters’ Day, after church, out to supper (yes, my Amish friends love to eat out), and even just an afternoon sitting in the shade while peeling apples or shelling peas.

Sisters’ Day is a wonderful phenomenon where sisters (go figure) get together for all sorts of activities. They can have cookie exchanges, make comfort patches, go shopping, or just sit around and eat and talk.  The Sisters’ Day I got to experience was a canning day. The sisters split the cost of supplies and canned a whole bunch of soup. We all worked together chopping, mixing, boiling, and sealing the jars. And did I say a whole bunch? We canned over eighty quarts of soup!

Sisters’ Day is where I heard about an Amish group of women who had banded together because none could have children. It’s also where I heard about an Amish woman who was trying to adopt two little English girls and the troubles they faced. I heard about a widow who was marrying her husband’s best friend in order to have help taking care of her children. There were tales of Amish men abandoning their wives, Amish wives abandoning their husbands, and a host of other problems that most of us wouldn’t dream the Amish face. Trouble conceiving, fertility treatments, special needs children, dietary problems, husbands and wives losing that honeymoon feeling. It’s all there and more.

I have often said that I take ideas from the “English” world and imagine how the Amish would cope, but The Quilting Circle stories are unique as they came straight from the Amish themselves.

Continue reading “The Amish Quilting Circle and Sister’s Day: an idea is born”


Subhuman by Michael McBride

“Researchers find secret, warm oasis beneath Antarctica’s ice that could be home to undiscovered species”


After millennia beneath the ice, the frozen continent of Antarctica is finally starting to give up its secrets, and what amazing secrets they are. A 13,000-year-old meteorite containing fossilized bacteria believed to be of extraterrestrial origin. The remains of a cat-sized, egg-laying, distant relative of modern mammals. Bodies of water the size of the Great Lakes encapsulated beneath two vertical miles of ice and brimming with the kinds of extremophilic organisms responsible for the genesis of the planet’s earliest atmosphere. And now, an entire system of caves heated by geothermal energy and capable of supporting not just higher orders of life, but species believed to exist nowhere else on the planet.

How did these enigmatic organisms survive? How did they wind up at the bottom of the world in the most hostile environment on the globe? Scientists are racing to Antarctica and braving the vicious elements to find the answers to these questions, answers that could potentially change our understanding of the origin—not to mention the future—of all life on Earth.

In a case of life imitating art, this is precisely the scenario I envisioned when I sat down in the spring of 2016 to write Subhuman, the first book in the Unit 51 Series. These extant species have beaten seemingly insurmountable odds to survive and triumphed over environmental pressures undoubtedly capable of triggering unbelievable feats of evolution. And on a continent so desolate and in such a brutal climate, you have to figure that any physical mutations have the potential to be truly frightening.

Check out this article from the National Post and then track down a copy of Subhuman, coming this November from Kensington Publishing, available wherever books are sold.

Sometimes, even nature makes mistakes.

Continue reading “Subhuman by Michael McBride”

The Scotsman Who Saved Me by Hannah Howell

When asked to do a Western the first thing I needed to do was decide where it would be set.  Not having traveled much in the west – mostly due to a dread of flying – I had to decide what features I wanted first.  Since it was a Scottish hero, I decided a somewhat mountainous area would be nice so researched all the mountainous areas.  I picked the Ozarks because as I looked at all the pictures it reminded me just a bit of the White Mountains area in New Hampshire.

Then I had to get some books on the history of the area, look at a ton of pictures, and then hit the books on the flora and fauna of the region.  It is often the small things, like mentioning the wrong bird, that can trip a writer up. I do have one thing on my side and that is that I almost always use a made up name for my setting so I don’t really have to research every nook and cranny of some town or city.  So after a marathon reading session plus hours on the internet to collect pictures, I started.

My hero Iain and his six brothers came next.  Just the thought of a man with six brothers I find interesting.  I made them pretty much right off the boat Scots.  I often think it would be fun to slip back to that time for a quick visit to listen to all the accents before they all became localized American, but then I recall advances like central heating and bathrooms and decide, maybe not.

I hope everyone finds my Scotsmen in America a good read.   Continue reading “The Scotsman Who Saved Me by Hannah Howell”

Hope for Christmas by Stacy Finz

So I’ve been asked to fast forward to Christmas 2022 and tell you what gifts Clay and Emily of Hope for Christmas exchange with each other. Wow, I don’t know what could top the gift they get in this story. And since I don’t want to spoil it, I’ll leave it at that.

But five years from now, the McCreedy family is going to be sharing a lot of love. Justin will have graduated from Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo and has a serious woman in his life. Baby Paige starts kindergarten, can you imagine that?

And a big surprise is in store for Emily that year. Her second installment of the Nugget Cookbook is the recipient of the coveted James Beard Award. She and Clay go to New York City for the ceremony and spend a romantic weekend at the Ritz-Carlton, just the two of them. It’s like a second honeymoon.

Not to be outdone, Clay wins Cattleman of the Year. This time, the whole family goes for a fun-filled weekend in San Lucas, California, where he’s feted by the United States Cattlemen’s Association. Continue reading “Hope for Christmas by Stacy Finz”

The Missy DuBois Mystery Series by Sandra Bretting

There are several reasons I don’t commit white-collar crime, in addition to the most obvious ones.

First and foremost: I don’t relish the thought of going to jail. Not to mention, it’d damage my moral compass.

Another reason, though, involves the FBI. What would they think if they perused the hard drive on my computer? Its agents would peg me for a wacko…or worse.

Check out my computer’s search history, and you’ll understand my fear. In the last week alone, I’ve researched the shelf life of arsenic, autopsy procedures specific to Louisiana, and the type of Glock officers carry in St. James County Parish.

It’s all part of writing a mystery series and trying to get the details right.  Since I began my career as a journalist—I wrote for publications like the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle—I’ve been trained to ferret out mistakes before they go to press. Continue reading “The Missy DuBois Mystery Series by Sandra Bretting”

The Secret Ingredient by Sharon Struth

“The name garlic is of Anglo-Saxon origin, derived from gar—a spear, and lac—a plant…”

We hung on Roberto’s words while inhaling in the universal aroma of good cooking. Our Sienese guide led us to a doorway in a blemished, white stucco building with aging-evergreen shutters. A sign read Trattoria. Long gold fabric cords hung from the top frame and danced with a breeze, but Roberto confidently pulled them aside and motioned us through with a wave of his hand.

Our day tour from Siena, Italy was filled with promises of the historical, natural, and culinary treasures awaiting us in Tuscany. Roberto delighted us at every turn with word origins, stops at old Etruscan tombs, and jaunts up narrow alleyways constructed in the dark ages.

And now it was time for lunch at his friend Marcello’s place.

The tiny trattoria had a seating capacity of no more than fifteen. Terracotta-colored walls showed the cracks of age, but managed to hold a few ceramic plates and yellowed photographs.

It wasn’t printed anywhere, yet I knew this was a place for the locals…

Traveling is my hobby. I can never get enough of moments like the one described above.

When I wrote The Sweet Life, I couldn’t stop thinking about my visit to Marcello’s restaurant, a mere dot on a map in the small town of Staggia, Italy. It might have been the best meal I’ve ever eaten.

Marcello served us Tuscan Bread Soup, Pappa al Pomodoro. Pungent garlic, flavorful basil leaves soaked in sweet tomato juices, all surrounding thick chunks of hearty bread. Next came a boar stew. Tender meat drenched in a flavorful broth of rich wine, rosemary, garlic and tart tomato presented on a bed of thick, flat pappardelle noodles. Simple. Nourishing. Unforgettable.

How does a meal evoke such strong memories six years later?

Maybe it was the endless glasses of Chianti. Or learning our chef and host loved to write poetry.

After we ate, he’d appeared with a sheet of paper in his hands, cleared his throat, and said, “Il Chianti.”

He read his poem. I didn’t understand a single word (although Roberto later translated). Yet the rhythm of the beautiful romance language sang in my ears, its flavor satisfying my heart much like the Tuscan soup had nourished my hunger.

Or perhaps I recall the meal so vividly due to the awe on my daughters’ faces while Marcello read aloud. Their attentive gazes drank in appreciation for the special moment; a stranger sharing his heartfelt love of Tuscany and his belief that visitors are always considered new friends.

Marcello gave us copies of his poem, signed and dated. His beautifully written words describe the splendor of Tuscany…the fields yielding their fine wines and olives, hilltops lined with cypress trees – reminiscent of an era gone by, a country table filled with delectable gifts for our taste buds.

It’s his last line, though, that resonates in my heart: Whilst the visitor – always a friend and never a stranger – drinks with joy this sincere wine.

Thinking about that meal, my soul fills with love for my family, a fresh understanding of the pleasure found in new friendships, and cherished taste bud recollections. All brought to me through a secret ingredient…the joy Chef Marcello spread to us through his love of cooking.

If you are salivating after reading this (like I am), here’s a recipe for Tuscan Bread Soup. Now start cooking…

Continue reading “The Secret Ingredient by Sharon Struth”

A Great Hobby for History Lovers – Genealogy by Heather Hiestand

I’d been seeing those ads for years regarding getting your DNA tested to learn about your ethnic background. As an adoptee, I’d always been leery of dipping into dangerous waters. Did I really want to know anything about the people who’d given me away to strangers? Did I really want to know what the circumstances were behind this (presumably) enormous decision?

However, a part of me was always deeply curious about my greater family tree. I had questions, and what little I had been told as a child about my ethnicity didn’t match up with what I’d accidentally learned as an adult. So when my husband expressed momentary curiosity about his family tree, namely to learn if he really was part Native American or not, I jumped on it and bought two DNA test kits when they were on sale over the holidays.

Well, we’ve had so much fun that my parents became interested as well. So now I have four different people to research! And yes, my husband really is part Native American. So am I! I had no idea I’d discover that the “Cherokee princess” myth so many families have might possibly be true in my case. If you have deep roots in the American South it’s something to look into…

I had a connection to my British-set novels, too. On the subject of my Grand Russe series with Kensington, I discovered that I actually had ancestors in London in the 1920s. They weren’t working in a grand hotel, though. They were in the garment trade in the east end, and many, if not all of them, immigrated to Canada and the US during this decade. I’ve been humbled by my imaginings of what it must have taken for my great-grandparents to journey from Russia/Poland to the UK, to Canada, and then to the Unites States, all in one generation. Tough, tough people that I’m descended from, don’t you think? I’m pretty sure that my great-grandparents would have had the moxie to battle the Russian baddies in my books. Continue reading “A Great Hobby for History Lovers – Genealogy by Heather Hiestand”

Canvas Preparation & Supply Care by Kelly Moran

Zoe, the heroine in my recent release, New Tricks, is a pet groomer, but she’s also an artist. Her medium is primarily acrylic and her style is surrealism, so I’m channeling her to offer some advice.

  • Prep the canvas by applying Gesso, which is a white paint mixture that fills in the pores and covers the surface smooth. You can apply as many as ten thin layers or a couple heavy ones. Be creative in application with strokes to set any mood you wish. Allow to dry thoroughly before paining.
  • After care is very important. An alternative to paint thinner to clean brushes is vinegar if you don’t like the fumes. Be sure to rinse brushes thoroughly and completely dry on a flat surface to ensure longevity.
  • Store all materials in a cool, dry place. Recap tubes and close containers to avoid drying or thickening of your paint. You may wrap brushes in plastic wrap to prevent them from losing shape.

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” — Degas

Continue reading “Canvas Preparation & Supply Care by Kelly Moran”

Demon Hunting With A Sexy Ex by Lexi George

Author Blog Post:

I love food. I’ve never missed a meal, unless I was sick, and my mama never had to call me twice for dinner. When people—my youngest daughter in particular—say, “I forgot to eat,” I shake my head in wonder.

I have never “forgotten” to eat.

In the South, celebrations, holidays, and times of mourning revolve around eating, and I cannot separate the memories of my childhood from the memories of good food. I remember dancing in the kitchen at suppertime as a child, salivating at the delicious smells coming from the stove and oven, and pestering my poor mother to death to know when supper would be ready. I was an active kid, a tom boy, and I spent my days roaming the woods and riding my bike, and I was always hungry.

Mama, bless her, was a good cook. Fried chicken, tender pork chops, catfish rolled in corn meal and fried to a crisp. Succulent pot roast with new potatoes and carrots, Swiss steak with peppers and onions, and salmon croquettes were a few of the entrees she whipped up. And the sides . . . Oh, my!  Creamed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, oven-fried corn, turnip greens, cabbage, fried okra, peas and butter beans, and hot cornbread, to name a few. Continue reading “Demon Hunting With A Sexy Ex by Lexi George”

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